When what we're pursuing is worth the effort, how do we persevere until the end?
We have been walking through this series we’re calling “Pursuit.” As we move toward the final two weeks, I get the privilege of sharing what I’d like us to consider our faith in Jesus. Faith has a remarkable ability to expand our endurance. It has so much more for us than just simply a belief. When we join our journey with the journey Jesus is inviting us to move into and say ‘Yes, I will pursue that life. I will pursue that journey,’ then something starts to occur within us. Our endurance starts to expand and our capacity increases. Jesus is the one who gives us the means by which that happens. But He does so in a rather unique way. Even though He’s the one who is able to increase our endurance, He never eliminates our need to choose to remain under the weight, through the obstacle, and maybe even the pain, in spite of the pressure.
There is this unique way in which God strengthens us. He invites us to become part of the strengthening. I don’t think anything exemplifies what endurance looks like as sports do. February is one of those unique months where there seems to be a rather large event in the sports world today. I don’t follow sports that much necessarily, but this month is actually kicking off the Winter Olympics. Starting Friday we’re going to see South Korea participating. There are athletes from all over the world that are going to converge and be competing at high levels. Every single one of these competitions will demonstrate in one way, shape, or form what endurance looks like. It just so happens that yesterday morning I was having one of those rare mornings where things slowed down enough that I had some time to be able to read the paper.
I went ahead and had a cup of coffee, opened up the paper and I was just thinking about what we were going to be sharing this weekend. In The Wall Street Journal, one of the headlines caught my attention. It said “Head games, the mental tricks of athletes of athletic endurance”. I thought, “Oh, that’s interesting.” I definitely believe athletics shows us something about endurance. In this article, something was captured that made me think, “Wow, you know what? That’s a remarkable story.” What they shared was a story of a woman who, in 2010, did something pretty amazing. She was a Slovenian cross-country skier. Her name was Petra Majdič.
Petra was in the midst of warming up for her competition. She had been training for this day. In the middle of warming up before her first heat, she skidded off an icy corner, fell more than 10 feet off the track, and found herself at the bottom of a rocky creek bed. Feeling enormous pain, she made her way over to the local medical tent, went inside, and asked the doctor to go ahead and examine her. After giving her an ultrasound, the doctor said, “You know, I don’t know how else to say this, but it just seems like everything’s okay.” She double-checked and said, “Everything’s okay?” The doctor says, “You’re all clear.” She says, “Can I still compete?” Doctor says, “Yes, you can go ahead.” So she made her way through excruciating pain and made her way over to the first heat. She started to recognize something of a thought that developed within her. She thought, “You know what? If a doctor says I’m okay, then this pain my body is telling me is all in my head.” She went up to the first heat and finished in such a way that she was able to qualify for the quarter-final. She completed the quarter-final in such a way that she was allowed entry into the semi-final. She completed the semi-final in such a way that she had a place in the final race. Each step of the way was excruciatingly painful.
Petra gets up to the final race and she finishes that race having earned a bronze medal. In her case, it would be nothing short of miraculous because after that enjoying the podium moment, she made her way to the local hospital and asked the doctor to take a look at her. The pain was so big. She ended up finding out after an ultrasound that she had actually been misdiagnosed in the medical tent. What made this remarkable was that she completed those four races having had four broken ribs. The pain she endured was that of a broken rib stabbing one of her lungs, puncturing it, and it finally had collapsed.
This article says this is an example in which the body has this ability to not just warn us to stop, but it does so far before it has the capacity to continue going. The article said this athlete was in remarkable physical condition. She had devoted her entire life to this. Petra had mentally focused herself, but through the entire process, one thing was very clear. The way she spoke about what she was experiencing, allowed her to endure the pain. The way she processed it actually enabled her body to move forward. The article says this is an amazing thing that many scientists are now looking at. Looking at how many times we have the feeling that we can go no further. It’s just that. It’s a feeling. The reality is that we are far more capable than we initially think.
It’s not to say that we can just think our way through the pain. Petra had a punctured lung and broken ribs. She ended up no longer being able to participate in the remaining Olympics. She spent the entire week in the hospital recuperating. There is something to be said about her ability to talk herself through the pain that increased her capacity to endure. I think it exemplifies that endurance. When we talk about endurance, it’s intimately connected to a couple of things. It’s connected to the value we place on what we are pursuing. If we consider what we are pursuing extremely valuable, then there is enormous strength there. It’s connected to the way we speak to ourselves when inevitable obstacles come our way. It’s connected to the reality that we have far more capacity within us than what we think we do. We can push beyond. There’s no negating reality. Petra was injured and in need of repair. But there are moments in our lives, like Petra, where we pursue a goal. A lot of times we begin our pursuit. We can begin our year with certain things in focus. I thought about this because we may not be Olympians, but we are each in our own race.
I wonder if there are any areas right now where we need endurance. What is the one area where we are in most need of endurance? What is that one pursuit right now that I am following with everything in my being? I have started it out. I have decided I’m going to move forward. But in this last month, what has happened is it feels like I’ve careened off the corner of my track. I feel like I’m wounded at the bottom of a rocky creek bed. Man do I need endurance. Others of us may be in a place where we started out well, and are pursuing certain things in our relationships. We’re pursuing certain things in our careers. Maybe there’s a habit we’re seeking to build. Perhaps there’s something we’re seeking to build out of. Wherever we might be, there will be a moment.
Some of us may be in this place right now, wounded. The temptation is not to rest. It is not to recuperate. It is not to heal. When obstacles come our way, the temptation is to talk ourselves out of the pursuit altogether and to cease the race we’re supposed to run. If that is where we’re at, then I would love to share in our time together, that our faith in Jesus gives us the capacity to enlarge our ability to endure. He gives us the means. We will not find it simply out of anywhere. He gives us the means, but He invites us to become part of the process. We must choose. In fact, if you open up your handout, we will walk through a passage in which the author of this letter is writing to a group of people who are actually in a place where they need to hear. They need to hear, they need to run the enduring pursuit.
Let’s jump into Hebrews 10:32. It says, “But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened,” that is, you came to a point of believing in Jesus. “You endured a hard struggle with sufferings and sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.” It seems the writer is addressing a group of people who are actually in a rather remarkable place in life. Many of us might think we came to a point where we are exploring life with God because of the pain, need, or longing in our lives. The author is saying, “Listen, do you remember when you started off, you started off a pursuit of Jesus. When you started your pursuit of Jesus, pain entered your life. Do you remember because you decided to follow what God was putting in your heart, it wasn’t that you were coming out of pain? You knowingly stepped into it. Do you remember that you counted the value of what you’ve pursued worth that cost? Do you remember that? Do you remember how you started off so well and you knew this would invite trials? You said, “I want to follow anyway.” You knew this was going to be challenging. You said, “I think it’s worth it.”
Remember this pursuit of yours? It was one in which you said, “You know what? The cost of it is worth the attaining of it.” In fact, it did something to you. It impacted you internally. Verse 34 says, “You had compassion on those in prison and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.” Remember how you started on this journey. Do you remember that you knew moving in this direction would be difficult, but you said “I will do it anyway. It’s worth it.” Then do you remember how the challenges in this pursuit started altering how you processed it out? Something remarkable happened to your heart. It didn’t shrink. It expanded. In the midst of the trial, your concern was no longer self-focused.
The sphere of your concern enlarged. It started to enlarge and other people were allowed in it. Your soul started expanding. You had compassion, not just for your family and those you love, but also for people that weren’t even in your life. For those in prison and often forgotten, your compassion expanded because you thought this pursuit was worth it. In fact, you ended up suffering much. Your resources were depleted, but you didn’t see it that way. Your compassion expanded and your joy increased. Do you remember that? Something remarkable was happening in you because you joyfully allowed it. You were so moved internally that you decided to use and allow your material resources to be used to comfort, empower, and strengthen others.
The author is speaking to a group of people who demonstrated amazing endurance and tenacity. They demonstrated the highest level of what it looks like to pursue something worthy of our pursuit. But it seems as though they entered a season. Perhaps they expected it to last a little while. They did not think it would last as long as it did. The immense persecution and trials they were experiencing started to wear them down. We’re told in verse 35, “Therefore, listen, remember that. Remember how you started, do not throw away your confidence.” Remember, don’t let your conviction wane which has a great reward. What you are pursuing is worth it. In fact, “For you have need of endurance.” This is the word in Greek “hupomenó,” which literally means “to remain under.” You need to remain.
Don’t give up on the very reason you started this. You need to remain under, “This endurance so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what is promised.” That is the reason why you even started. It will be yours if you remain. The author ends up quoting this author from Habakkuk. He says, “Yet a little while and the coming one will come and will not delay, but my righteous one will live by faith. That is their confidence in me will make them right. If he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him, but we are not those who shrink back.” Can you see it? It’s the drumbeat of encouraging them to remain in the pursuit. He says “who shrink back and are destroyed. No, but we are those who have fate and preserve our soul.” We are the ones who stick it out. We don’t give in to the temptation to quit. We might falter. We might have a lapse. We might careen off a corner, but we come back and keep running. This is what he’s saying. I just love the way the message actually captures this. It says you need to stick it out, staying with God’s plan. So you’ll be there for the promised completion. It won’t be long now. He’s on the way. He’ll show up at any moment. But if anyone is right with me, he thrives on loyal trust. He trusts that. What I say I’ll do.
If anyone is right with me, he thrives on loyal trust. If he cuts and runs, I won’t be very happy. Well, we’re not quitters. This isn’t our faith. Our faith doesn’t quit on us. It invites us to reciprocate. We are not those who lose out. No, we’ll stay with it. We’ll survive. We’ll trust in Him every single step of the way. That’s who we are. That’s what we’re defined by. That’s what our faith does for us. That’s what following Jesus ends up converting us into. It’s almost as if he’s saying there are other areas in your life, where in your past, perhaps this was the way, but not anymore. This is now being transformed. You are now one of those who stick it out. That’s who you are. This actually reminded me of this idea of an author, Seth Godin. He’s a rather well-known blogger and somewhat of a sociologist. He’s a prolific writer. He wrote a small book called “The Dip.” In this book, he explains that every single one of us has an endeavor, a journey we’re pursuing. We might even remember how we began this year. Some of us moved forward into something that was deep within our souls.
When we move deep within our soul, he says, every single one of us will encounter what he calls “the dip.” He has this chart or graph. He says, “We begin and we know it’s an uphill climb, but we expect it to be a short, uphill climb because we begin knowing and seeing ourselves at the top of the mountain.” So we say, “Of course, it’s going to be challenging.” He says, “We all begin. But then what happens is we start to feel a little deceived because like on any hike, we might think the summit is right there.” Once we get there, we realize, no, that’s not the summit. There’s an enormous valley now. The summit is actually far beyond what I originally saw. He says, “But we don’t lose heart.” We usually say, all right, I’ve made it this far. I’ll continue. We start going and picking up some momentum. It starts feeling like we’re running downhill. That feels good. Then we get to the bottom. He says, “In that dip, that dip starts to feel like, oh, this is far harder than I ever imagined.”
He says, “Everyone gets there.” He says this based on what he has observed with people, with how societies function. He says, “Everyone gets there.” So, that should comfort us if that’s where we’re at. But he says, there is a difference between those who make it to the top, what he calls winners, and the rest of us. The difference is surprising. It’s not, ‘they always muscle it out.’ He says, “Winners quit all the time.” But the difference is they just quit the right stuff at the right time. He says “a lot of times, we all initiate a pursuit and we all think this is great. This is worth our while and our energy and our focus. But the winners are the ones who recognize very quickly. I was mistaken. This is not worth me pursuing. I was actually a little bit misguided. This is not actually worth the investment that I was initially.” The end is not worth me going through this. They cut and run. They pursue worthy endeavors. He says the decision to quit or not is a simple evaluation. He uses this word “simple.” I don’t think it’s simple, but he says, it’s a simple evaluation. Here’s the question we are to ask, “Is the pain of the dip worth the benefit of the light at the end of the tunnel??
He says winners ask that question over and over and over. “Is the pain I’m walking through worth the benefit of what I’m striving to get to?” That is the question. The writer to the Hebrews is essentially saying with the resounding echo, “This is a pursuit. This is one of those we don’t shrink back from. You don’t understand how good it will be. You cannot imagine how fulfilling it will be. This is one of those things you do not quit.” It’s almost as if he’s saying, “Listen, faith that endures has the ability to have this increasing sense of zero minimized regrets because it starts to attain momentum. It starts to capture something of movement. That promise we started initiating became more and more real.” He says in Hebrews 11:1, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for; it’s the conviction of things not seen.” We are clearly not running after something we already have.
No, we are running after something that is off in the distance. It’s almost as if he’s saying move on to what we believe about God. It’s movement based on what we believe about God, not on our present reality. He says, “That’s how you are to endure.” If we are in a place where we feel a little depleted, I can tell you that Hebrews 11 is one of the most fantastic chapters to read. It has countless examples, one after another of men and women who were not perfect. Men and women who did not do it without faltering, who did not run this race without failing. They endured and exemplified what it looks like to move forward. He chronicles that and at the end says, “I do not even have space to tell you of all the different people that have never regretted not quitting this race.”
He says in light of that, “I want you to remember, therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” that is that heritage that we have, “let us also lay aside every weight and sin, which so clings closely. let us run with endurance the race that is set before us looking at Jesus, the founder, and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” He is the one who was able to run this perfectly. It’s almost like the drumbeat of the entire letter is saying, “I know you’re under tremendous pressure. I know you’re experiencing persecution. I know you’re experiencing trials. I know you’re in pain, but you need to know this. It is worth it. It is worth it. It is worth it.” It’s over and over. So you need to do this. You need to remember no one ran it perfectly. Only Jesus.
As you fix your eyes on Him, you’ll be able to move forward. Now it’s a great model and has so much for us. I think what I’d like to do in the remaining moments we have here is propose a couple of things that I’m hoping and think will increase our ability to endure in the pursuits. We know this isn’t one we’re supposed to quit on. What this shows us is that number one, the enduring pursuit is developed in secret practices of our daily lives. It’s developed in the secret practices of our daily lives. The author does not address how to avoid pain. He does not address how to live a challenge-free life. He doesn’t talk about that. This is how you stay out of the conflict.
This is how life becomes easier. He doesn’t address that at all. He doesn’t even talk about the things going on in his life. He addresses internal life. He speaks of their confidence. That is their conviction and trust. The things that are laid within the secret parts of who we are, the caverns of our soul, that cultivate and grow loyalty, trust, faith, and belief or the exact opposite. The opposite is doubt, fear, and anxiety. Those things rival each other within us all the time. He’s saying, “Listen, remember to guard your confidence. I know you’re getting tired, but pay attention to how you are doing within.” The Psalmist shows us a little bit of what this is like when he said in Psalm 139, “Search me oh God, know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”
The Psalmist is saying, “I want to develop a life that invites You without hiding anything. That is an open book. I want to come before You, God. I want to say, “Lord, I invite you into the depths of my heart.” That’s something we would never actually do with anyone. I invite you into the areas I even hide from myself. I invite you into my self-talk. I invite you to inform me how I am talking myself through this. I invite you into my anxieties and my fears. Come into the secret caverns of who I am. I invite you into my propensity to skid off the track. The Psalmist demonstrates inviting Him into our hearts is not something that we do with fear of condemnation. It is something that is done like an injured athlete does when they walk into a medical tent and ask the doctor, “Will you inspect me? Will you examine me?” We know that You are out for my best. The difference is like a flawed doctor. We will never be misled by our Great Physician. We will never be tricked. We will never be deceived. His posture toward us is one of, “I want to give you everlasting life.” The great Psalm says “The Lord is my shepherd. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” For some of us, it is our confidence and trust in Him. “Lord, will you restore my soul?” It is something we need to do each moment, but certainly in some way, shape, or form to develop the cadence because the cadence of confidence being guarded and protected is the cadence of endurance increasing. We do that.
We start to discover that we have the ability to pull on the means of God to be able to increase our ability to endure. If that’s the case, the enduring pursuit also advances when we focus on what we can control. When we focus on the very thing. This is why after explaining how to work through this interior life, he says, “I want you to remember something. I want you to lay aside the weights. I want you to lay aside the traps that trip us up. I want you to run your race, and I want you to fix your eyes on Jesus.” He does not say a single thing about experiences or external realities. He says everything about what they can. You can be in jail or free. You can be poverty-stricken or wealthy. You can be lonely, wounded, or sorrowful. You could be extraordinarily happy and joyful. Focus on what you can do. Focus on what’s under your control. Lay aside the weights, lay aside the traps, run your race, fix your eyes on Jesus. Do this and you will advance. This is what the author is saying to him. In the early 1900s, there was an event that caught the world by storm. It was a race to the South Pole. It was between two men, Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott. One, a Norwegian and the other an English Naval officer. There were entire nations behind the rally of these two people, the first people to ever make it to the center of the South Pole.
Both teams made it successfully. One team made it back. On the journey back, one team perished with all their equipment and animals. With every single life, they did not make it back. There were many differences in leadership styles. Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian is actually the one who made it back. Not just himself, but every single member of his team made it back having been able to be victorious and survive the journey. It would be Robert Scott who would be known as the man who ventured into this journey. Every single one of them knew they were putting their lives in their own hands. Every single one of them lost their life. Their leadership styles had many differences, but one of them actually captured many people. Roald Amundsen developed what is known now as a 20-mile march.
Amundsen decided he would venture into this journey in a very different way than anyone else. He said that every day he would pace his team to move forward, no matter what the conditions. They would progress 15 to 20 miles every single day. This was a challenge in good weather. When the team that was filled with very competitive men that could go further, who were fighting for their nation, would push Roald and say, “Listen, we can go further than 20. We can go 25. We can go 30. We can even maybe max out a 35. We’ll get there faster. Let’s go.” Roald Amundsen had to calm them down and say, “No, we need to avoid complete exhaustion. I know the weather’s good. You need to restrain yourself.” When the weather was bad and there were gale-force winds. When there was a blizzard outside, he would have to force them to move forward as close to 15 miles as possible. Amundsen would have to push them.
Scott had a very different strategy. Scott would navigate his team based on external conditions. When the weather was good, he would drive his team extraordinarily hard because he thought this was a window of opportunity. We will go as far as we can. We will max out 25, 30, maybe 35 miles together. We will get there faster. They would end up stumbling into their tents, completely exhausted, too tired to even eat. On bad days, he’d end up hunkering down in his tent. What survives is his journal entries. He would complain about the terrible conditions and how it was impossible for anyone to move through these conditions. How this was setting them back. They found that the way Amundsen traveled and the way Scott traveled had a lot to do with their interior and their actions. Amundsen would say “the weather was ferocious. We made 10 miles. Beautiful weather today. Held the men to 17 miles.” He made a 650-mile journey focusing on what he could control. I wonder what are the daily habits that no matter what the circumstances are in our pursuit, we can choose to move towards our 20 Mile March.
We could choose to say, “The circumstances are terrible. I got ten miles today. Thank you for this beautiful day. I restrained myself to 17.” If we do that, then we see advancement. What ends up happening is our enduring pursuit begins to be strengthened by our hope. A hope that does not put us to shame. A hope that does not let us down. Hope inherently means long-term investment. We do not hope for something we can microwave, “Oh, I hope this popcorn pops.” We do not. We hope for the things that are so far out there, it would require an act of God to do it. We hope for things that are so unbelievably challenging that they stretch our soul in the struggle of it. Something inside of us says, “I know it’s difficult, but God you have told me you will do it. So you will. I trust in you and I will move forward with you. I will not be disappointed by you.”
Over time, what ends up happening is we look to the future. We can go to any movie or film, read any great story or an epic novel, and see or read the worst day of the protagonist’s life. If all we see is the worst day of their life, then we would say, “There is no hope for them.” Many times we evaluate our lives and those around us in the same way not knowing that the story is much larger. If God is the author of that story, then the end is good. The end is victorious. The end is fulfilling. The end is worth the journey. We start to see that when God is in the midst of our story, He will give us the means to endure the process. We will get to the end of our journey, wherever it might lead us, extraordinarily fulfilled and satisfied. This is a pursuit of Jesus, of what God breathed into our soul. This is not one of those we quit. The light is worth the pain. May we be those who endure.
In a moment, we’re going to receive our time of giving and have a final song, but I’d love to just pray. Lord, I thank you. I thank you that you’re able to meet us exactly where we’re at in the midst of our very unique challenges, whether it has to do with the environments we’re in or the environments within. I pray that you give us Your grace. That you would expand our ability to guard and strengthen our confidence in You. That you would help us Lord choose to move into that which You have given us; the ability to control. That You would fuel our soul with Your hope. Hope of the one who ran this race perfectly. Hope of the one who endured the cross. Hope of the one who is alive right now, seated on a glorious throne. We pray for Your blessing. We ask for this in Jesus’ name. Amen.